Hours before the arrival on Sunday of Anna Tibaijuka, head of UN Habitat, a state-run newspaper reported that the government was winding up the campaign dubbed Operation Murambatsvina, or Drive Out Trash.
The Sunday Mail report was dismissed by the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change. Party spokesman Paul Themba Nyathi said the destruction of shanty towns continued unabated over the weekend in the southern border
town of Beitbridge.
Police have torched and bulldozed tens of thousands of shacks, street stalls and even the vegetable gardens planted by the urban poor at a time of acute food shortages, since launching the programme on 19 May.
Estimates of the number of people affected range between 300,000 and 1.5 million.
President Robert Mugabe says the campaign is necessary to fight crime and maintain health standards in Zimbabwe’s cities.
The government says the drive
But the opposition, which has its strongholds among the urban poor, says the blitz is intended to punish its supporters who voted against the government in recent parliamentary elections.
Mugabe told his party he had agreed to meet with Annan’s envoy “so as to enable the secretary-general to understand and appreciate what we are trying to do”.
Tibaijuka, who heads a seven-member delegation, was expected to meet Mugabe early in the week, UN spokeswoman Katherine Anderson said.
She will also tour towns and cities where the operation is taking place to assess its impact. Her visit is expected to last several days, Anderson said.
Also on the agenda are meetings with legislators, including the opposition, church leaders and others who have been helping those affected.
Opponents say the blitz is aimed
Mugabe’s government has sought to curb the independent media, and only state accredited journalists were allowed to meet with Tibaijuka upon her arrival Sunday afternoon.
The government’s campaign – in which 42,000 people have been arrested, fined or had their goods confiscated – has
provoked an international outcry.
The independent Sunday Standard newspaper reported at least six people have died.
On Friday, Mugabe said 3 trillion Zimbabwe dollars ($325 million) would be spent to build 1.2 million houses or building plots by 2008.
But economists said they doubted cash-strapped Zimbabwe – where inflation is running near 150% and unemployment hovers around 80% – could afford the rebuilding programme.